Page 50 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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MICHAEL GREENSTEIN
Jewish Pegasus
A
f t e r
d e f e n d i n g
t h e
short story genre by quoting a Yiddish
standard for brevity (“Vus hoks du mir a chinik?”), Bernard
Malamud shifts from banging pots to a slightly less domesticated
metaphor: “The writer mounts his personal Pegasus, even if
it is an absent-minded nag who never made it on the race track;
an ascension occurs and the ride begins.” To be sure, Malamud’s
metaphor is meant to describe the pace and rhythm of shorter
forms of fiction, but his inclusion of “The Jewbird” and “Talk­
ing Horse” in the same collection suggests that his Pegasus may
be more than just a passing figure. Indeed, the recurrence of
“horses” and “birds” throughout the history of Jewish literature
reveals that they are endemic to the Jewish imagination. To
compensate for the heaviness and speed of their enemies’ horses
or their own peddlers’ overburdened nags, Jewish writers in­
vented delicate, fragile wings offering the hope of escape and
redemption. Their bird’s-eye perspective helped them survey
and endure history’s labyrinthine race track without a finish
line in sight.
Ever since Noah let the raven and dove out of the ark in
search of land, Jews have been avid bird watchers, for wings
symbolized transcendence and vulnerability in a landless world.
According to the Midrash, Noah’s dove symbolizes the
Shekhinah gone into Exile after visiting the Garden of Eden:
with muddy feet and bitter olive the dove and other birds return
to the Jewish imagination over the centuries. Horses, on the
other hand, from the moment of the Exodus onward have rep­
resented the oppressors’ power and ruthlessness directed
against Jewish weakness. Where peaceful doves flew above the
deluge to return with an olive branch, Pharaoh’s lusty steeds
chased Hebrew servants over dry land only to be swallowed
by the sea.
The Song of Songs
(1:9) compares the people of Israel
to those very same steeds pulling Egyptian chariots, and Sol­
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